27 April 2014

Projecting Carbon Canyon's Future

This weekend's Champion has a lengthy article by Marianne Napoles titled "Future of Canyon Holds Hundreds of Homes."  This blog has frequently discussed the fact that there has been a potential of several housing projects on the Chino Hills and Brea portions of the Canyon that would total nearly 400 units and, if they were approved and built, Carbon Canyon as we've known it would essentially be gone.

So, there's nothing particular new in the article in a sense, but Napoles did a fine job of summarizing each potential development, while beginning her piece with: "Some residents may find it a hard pill to swallow."  Arguably, that might even be amended to suggest that "most residents may find it a bitter pill to swallow."  Moreover, the key might be when it is time to take the gulp.

As discussed by Napoles, the projects include:

Hidden Oaks:  107 houses south of Carbon Canyon Road at Canyon Hills Rd.
Canyon Hills:  76 houses north of Carbon Canyon Road at Canyon Hills Rd.
Stonefield:  28 houses at the northeast corner of Carbon Canyon Road and Fairway Dr.
Meaglia property: 11 houses south of Carbon Canyon Road at Pinnacle Dr. next to Carriage Hills.
Unnamed project:  23 houses off Red Apple Lane south of Carbon Canyon Rd.
Shanghai Aviation Industrial Corp.: 38 houses south of Carbon Canyon Rd. east of Canon Ln.
Total:  273 units.

This total does not include the Madrona project proposing 165 houses in Brea on the north side of Carbon Canyon between Sleepy Hollow and Olinda Village and which will be voted upon soon by the city council.

On the above list, "Hidden Oaks" has a long history and a bizarre name, given that there are many quite visible oak trees on the 537-acre property and that it is physically impossible to have "hidden oaks."   In any case, beginning with its earliest incarnation as "Soquel Canyon Country Estates," which was approved by San Bernardino County in 1989, two years before the incorporation of Chino Hills.  Just a few years before that, a massive plan for the development of the broader Chino Hills area was approved by the county.

A later iteration, called "Canyon Meadows" was then approved by the city council in 1999, but only after a massive protest by the Save Our Canyon grassroots organization led to the confirmation that 114 units would be built, rather than the 341 proposed by the developer, which sought to change zoning for that purpose.  As a result of the outcry, Measure U was passed in Chino Hills requiring a public vote to change zoning on the general plan.

When the project morphed into "The Ranch at Carbon Canyon," in 2000, however, the developer went in and destroyed over 500 trees, mainly oaks, before dropping the project, leaving a barren and desiccated landscape behind.

Nearly fifteen years later, Chino Hills Country Club, LLC, has revived the project and turned its application to the city in 2013, but was requested to conduct revisions concerning slopes, ridgelines and the natural features to the site.  These have been turned in and are now being reviewed by the planning department.

"Canyon Hills" also has a fairly long history to it, though not gone into in the article.  In December 2008, just after the disastrous crash of the American economy, former owner D.B. Horton sold the 141-acre parcel to Foremost Communities of Newport Beach, a firm founded in 2007 and described on its Web site as "a premier residential land investment company established to acquire property in strategic locations that can be entitled and developed into finished lots for sale to merchant homebuilders."  In other words, Foremost doesn't build homes, it works with venture capital firms like the notorious PIMCO and Starwood Capital Group Global, LLC. to find those "strategic locations" to develop raw land for sale to homebuilders.  An entity called "Forestar Canyon Hills, LLC" was created to develop the project.

Funnily and tellingly, given that one would think that there'd be a good working knowledge of a project site's general area, an aerial photo identifies Carbon Canyon as "Chino Hills State Park."  For the company's Web site, including a brief description of "Canyon Hills" please click here

However, the site's development history is as long as that of "Hidden Oaks."  An unnamed predecessor is shown on the City of Chino Hills' Web site to have been approved by the county in summer 1987 with a tentative tract map following two years later.  The final tract map did not get recorded until August 1997, but that was still nearly seventeen years ago.  For the project page on the city's site, please click here.

In recent months, there has been some infrastructure work going on within the property, linking sewer lines from the site northeast into the Oak Tree Estates subdivision and following roads there into the newer Elements at Pine Valley Estates tract completed north of the Canyon.  The "Canyon Hills" project is supposed to have a pumping station to direct sewage uphill towards the "Elements" site for that material to follow sewers down Eucalyptus Avenue to the east.  It has been said, though, that Forestar doesn't have the permits yet for the station and is doing the preliminary work for sewer removal system in advance of getting the permit.

Finally, the City of Chino Hills has a proposed traffic signal at Canyon Hills Road and Carbon Canyon Road on its priority list for signals.  This, of course, would mark only the second signal in Carbon Canyon--the first being the one built at Olinda Drive a few years ago.  Any idea that a signal would mark a great improvement for commuters along Carbon Canyon Road, however, is fundamentally flawed.  The only beneficiaries would be those folks turning from Canyon Hills onto Carbon Canyon--no net benefit would accrue to anyone else.  So much for mitigation.

The "Stonefield" project, on a 35-acre site tucked into an area below Carbon Canyon Road across from Carriage Hills and east of the Western Hills Country Club, received city council approval in 2009, over the objections of canyon residents.  While the developer is required to pay $1.2 million for the widening of the intersection of Carbon Canyon Road and Fairway Drive (and Ginseng Lane, which runs south of Carbon Canyon Road), nothing has been done yet as far as the site is concerned.

The Meaglia property recently closed escrow, as reported by Napoles, and the 11-lot subdivision on a little more than 6 1/2 acres was approved by the city council in 2011.  There was some pushback from the Carriage Hills Homeowners Association, which complained of a loss of views from the project and its removal of about half of the site's 365 trees, though about 250 new trees would have to be planted.

The Red Apple Lane project is in the concept stages, as the article stated that, "investors are looking into property at the end of Red Apple Lane south of Carbon Canyon Road" for what could be just shy of two-dozen residences, with a pre-application recently submitted.

Finally, there's the "Shanghai" parcel of 38 lots on 68 acres approved in 1988 by the county but rejected twice by the city council, in 2000 and 2001, because there are a number of landslide-prone areas within the site.  A map from the city, however, showing recycled water system project areas in Chino Hills indicates that the "Shanghai Aviation" property would yield 13 dwelling units.  There has long been a "for sale" sign on this parcel stating that 13 houses could be built on the property.  For the map, see here.

Clearly, the Stonefield, Meaglia, Red Apple Lane and Shanghai projects are all, taken individually, quite small and seemingly inoffensive.  However, they aggregate 100 units as reported and 75 if the Shanghai winds up being 13, not 38, units.

In addition, they are part of a larger inventory of potential residences totaling 273 and this is exclusive of the 165 units in the Madrona plan in Brea, which is nearing a decision by that city's governing body.  If everything, including Madrona, were approved and built, the number of units would be 438.  The number of residents could be as little as about 1,150, using the average household size in the US of just over 2 1/2 persons; or just under 1,500, if the general Chino Hills average of 3.25 persons per household is adopted; or probably closer to 2,000, because these new homes would all be larger than the city average and, consequently, family sizes would be greater.

Speaking of consequences, there are some basic underlying questions to raise, yet again, about the continuing development of the Canyon:
  • Are projects entitled in the 1980s and 1990 valid given the changed conditions (climate, traffic, pollution, local resources, etc.) of the mid-2010s?
  • If residents are being asked to conserve water because of a long-term drought (and, again, 2013-14 will be a very low water year), where will the water come from to supply houses and lots that are far larger than the average?
  • Continued drought will mean greater fire risks, so what will the addition of several hundred new houses mean for the protection and evacuation of Carbon Canyon residents in the next firestorm, which is certainly coming?
  • Carbon Canyon Road cannot be widened (and adding traffic signals is meaningless as mitigation), so what do our local officials propose be done when an already-overburdened state highway, rated "F" for significant commuting times, is further loaded with traffic, totaling about 4,000 extra car trips per day, from these and other projects eastward?
  • With potentially 400+ houses in the canyon and the consequent loss of natural open space, not the "manufactured slopes" of housing tracts passed off as "open space," doesn't the concept of "rural living" embodied by Carbon Canyon be further diminished and devalued?
  • Will Carbon Canyon be Carbon Canyon anymore or just another tractified (not a word, of course, but maybe should be?) element of the city, especially on the Chino Hills side and, to a somewhat lesser degree, on the Brea portion?
Naturally, there has been some NIMBYism in complaints about some of these projects--this blogger well remembers a Carriage Hills resident telling the Planning Commission that Stonefield would negatively affect his view and commissioner Karen Bristow, a longtime resident of the city and a major voice in the Measure U movement, telling this person that Carriage Hills, which was built in the late 1980s/early 1990s, had the same effect on locals then.  And, the above-mentioned letter from the Carriage Hills HOA attorney about the diminished view if the Meaglia project was to be built, is constructed along the same NIMBY lines.

But, when the matter of water, traffic, fire protection and so on, that's not run-of-the-mill, boilerplate NIMBYism, that's a fundamental shift in reality. 

Yet, why is it that entitled tract maps are good, essentially, forever, though there can be constraints put upon developments which have approved final tract maps.  For example, there can be a moratorium on projects in which there are, as stated in a 2000 legal article, "infrastructure constrains (e.g., sewer, water)."  Generally, though, these moratoria are applied when the project is under a tentative tract map and when conditions of approval (such as those recently proposed for Madrona) and other actions are applied in the tentative stage.  For this relatively brief article, please click here.

The problem is:  a project could have a final map recorded decades prior to its realization, during which time changes occur that would make a similar project applied for now infeasible.  Yet, this doesn't matter. 

Now, of course, there need to be some reasonable safeguards to protect a property owner's rights, but to grandfather in an approval from many years back, even if the parcel has had many owners and even if conditions have changed substantially so that effects of the project are far greater than originally envisioned is questionable.  Why couldn't a property owner be required to reapply a project when the final map (maybe then called an "approved map") is of a certain age? 

A tentative map has a lifespan of five years, so why not double the span of an approved (so-called "final") map to ten years, after which the project has to be resubmitted.  Rather than a completely new Environmental Impact Report, though, an update of the existing one could be done, using new studies of water use, traffic impacts, effects on biological resources, pollution generation and so on.  Surely, something could be created that wouldn't be overly onerous to a property owner.

But, this almost certainly will not happen, even if our changing world might seem to require something be done to adapt an outmoded and outdated system to that evolving environment.  There are too many vested interests (building industry associations, chambers of commerce, construction industry groups, political conservatives and others) who would fight it tooth and nail.

Water is going to be an obvious constraint over time, the fire risk is going to increase in conjunction with drought, traffic can only get worse under current driver behavior when Carbon Canyon Road can't be widened--given all of this, does it make sense to continue to have old policies for new realities?

Is that a rhetorical question?

Meantime, it's time to seriously consider leaving the Canyon, much as it is loved, because it will be increasingly harder to appreciate a place that won't have the qualities that made it so appealing.  A couple of years from now will probably be a prime time for reassessing, because if most of these projects are approved and built, Carbon Canyon will fundamentally be altered and compromised.  If it looks like the rest of the city, then what will be left to cherish?


Concerned for the canyon said...

>>>>>Chino Hills Country Club, LLC, has revived the project and turned its application to the city in 2013, but was requested to conduct revisions concerning slopes, ridgelines and the natural features to the site. These have been turned in and are now being reviewed by the planning department.<<<<<<

In regards to your comment above, I reviewed Chino Hills planning Dept. meetings minutes starting January 2103 till present. I found no mention of Chino Hills Country Club LLC, Hidden Oaks project, any reviews of such a project....etc. Is this information accurate at all???

prs said...

Hello, the information you highlighted came from the newspaper article. When you say you reviewed "planning department minutes," what you appear to mean is "planning commission minutes." With Hidden Oaks, the application has, so far, only been handled by the planning department staff and not yet taken up by the planning commission. Once the applicant has conformed to the requirements made by the planning department, then there'll be a hearing before the planning commission. After the commission votes, the matter goes to the city council. Hope this helps.

concerned for the canyon said...

Yes, this helps. Thanks for the reply and please keep up the good work on this blog.